Everybody thinks that whether someone cheats or not depends on how much they respect their partner. I can’t speak for everyone, but the reason I don’t cheat has a less to do with the person I am with, and a lot more to do with myself.
We make choices every day as temptation swirls around us in all its magical forms. Get out of bed—or don’t. Work hard—or don’t. Apply to grad school—or don’t. Drink a beer—or don’t.
Every choice we make, no matter how small, has an impact on what we think of ourselves. In turn, your life situation is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. When you make choices that grate upon your system of beliefs and betray the person you want to be, you’re disrespecting yourself more than anyone else.
Maybe you could cheat on your partner successfully for a long time—maybe it feels like you’re having your cake and eating it too. It’s warm and safe in the effervescent candyland of denial. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to look yourself in the mirror and like the person you see. If you make decisions you don’t respect, you’re the one who suffers the most.
And then once there’s a hole in your moral dam, why not indulge in a few more immoral gratifications? A lie here, a betrayal there, a slippery slope. You spin bulletproof webs of justification. Your moral compass loosens and swings free. Before long, you don’t know who you are. It’s so foggy and empty inside. You begin to doubt that you’re a good person. You trust no one, especially you. Pretending things are fine is all you have. So you cling to it.
Sometimes, it’s not just a few random mistakes that chip away at your sense of self. It can be years of poor decisions that you didn’t even see until they’d woven into a blanket of shame. A beautiful blanket that keeps you warm and comfortable, but pinned down, lying in the bed you made. How did you become a you that you don’t like?
All your decisions felt right and perfect in the moment. And you remember why you made them. But now, deep down, you know it’s all wrong. You’re dying, you’re suffocating, you hate yourself.
Figuring out how to escape the oppression of your own life choices is one of the toughest challenges in life. Some people never succeed. They creep toward old age feeling like sad wasted sacks of organic matter. Nothingness is life’s default setting for a failed mission. It’s resolving yourself to the path you’re on and not thinking you have the strength or the will to do better. But you do and you can. One of the greatest things about traveling and living abroad is that it forces you to completely change your lifestyle. The future happens one decision at a time and we are imperfect beings. Each day, I try to think of the one thing I dislike the most about myself, and work on that, only that.
And, when faced with temptation, I try to be selfish. I think of myself first. Can I live and love the person who gives in? Can you?